US President Barack Obama will spend private time in Nairobi with family members but will not travel to the village that is most closely associated with the family name, White House officials said.
Obama will land in Kenya on Friday, with a mission to strengthen US security and economic ties, but his personal connection to his father’s birthplace will dominate a trip that Kenyans view as a native son returning home.
“Just as anybody is curious about their heritage, visiting Kenya provides him an opportunity to make that personal connection,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior aide and family friend of Obama, said in an interview.
Obama’s step-grandmother, Sarah, lives in Nyang’oma Kogelo village in Siaya county, where investment and sports events have been aligned with his three-day visit.
A key event in Siaya is a county investment forum taking place at Senator Obama Primary School, near Sarah’s home, on Thursday. County Trade officer Joseph Ogutu said exhibitors would showcase their industrial, technical, artistic and cultural products.
He said this would help investors examine the viability of their areas of interest, “as will be the case at the Obama summit in Nairobi”. Addressing the press at the event, he said a game of rugby will take place on Friday and Saturday, and a half marathon around Lake Kanyaboli in August.
Ogutu said only Sh11 million for all the events, out of the Sh52 million that had been budgeted for a visit by Obama, was raised.
“We have to scale down the number of exhibitions and participants in the rugby and marathon sports,” he said, noting that the county gave Sh10 million and the private sector Sh1 million.
He said invitations to international teams and runners, for the rugby event and the marathon, were cancelled over the shortage of funds. Governor Cornel Rasanga had earlier said events to mark Obama’s homecoming would take place whether or not he visits Kogelo.
“We are using the Obama summit as a motivator, but such events should continue long after he is gone,” he said.
Obama, who made a trip to Kenya while serving as a US senator in 2006, has voiced some disappointment that he will have less freedom to see the country during this trip, but said he was looking forward to it nonetheless.
He will preside over the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit, pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the 1998 US embassy bombing and dine with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Uhuru’s indictment by the International Criminal Court, for crimes against humanity, largely prevented Obama from visiting Kenya earlier in his presidency; the charges were dropped in March.
US officials have not given details of what new security cooperation Uhuru and Obama will discuss, but Uhuru said the fight against terrorism will be “central to discussions.”
Obama’s critics have compared his record in Africa unfavorably to that of his predecessor, George W Bush, whose President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief programme has made him a hero on the continent.
Obama’s advisers point to his own initiatives on electricity, agriculture and trade as solidifying his legacy. He is the first sitting US president to go to Kenya or Ethiopia, his second stop on the two-country tour.